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Editor’s note:Dave Peters, son of Deacon Joe Peters of St. Stanislaus Basilica Parish in Chicopee, is journeying with five others to the Holy Land. A graduate of the Elms College, Dave is offering his insights and reflections about this trip for our readers. He gives a very special reflection following a violent attack in Jersualem where two Palestinians armed with a meat cleaver and a gun killed four worshippers in a Jerusalem synagogue on Nov. 18 before being shot dead by police, the deadliest such incident in six years in the holy city. Three of the victims held dual U.S.-Israeli citizenship and the fourth man was a British-Israeli national, police said.

“There has been an event.” Deeb, our guide, said soberly after we had buckled ourselves into the van. “An attack on a synagogue in West Jerusalem early this morning; several worshipers there were shot.” Every one in the group looked around at each other in disbelief. While in one sense we all knew this was a dangerous place, the news still came as a bit of a shock because since arriving in the Holy Land we had not once felt that we were in danger. Deeb went on to explain that this attack by two Palestinian men was retaliation for the strangling of a Palestinian bus driver yesterday following a confrontation with Israeli police. Apparently, the incident had been reported as a suicide by authorities after the bus driver had been found hanged by the neck in his bus.

“I think it best that we cancel our visit of the Dome of the Rock today.” Deeb continued. “In all likelihood, the authorities will not open it to tourists anyway.” That was fine because Tony and Deeb had showed us such great experiences already, we knew that anything they offered would not disappoint.

There was no doubt about it, the mood on the streets of Jerusalem had changed overnight. Pairs of young police officers in full combat gear were stationed with assault rifles at every gate, many others patrolled the streets of East Jerusalem, the Palestinian section, stopping and demanding identification from pedestrians they passed. Tony and Deeb testified, however, it was mostly just anyone who looked Arab.

wall

The metal detector at the Wailing Wall beeped red both times I walked through it until the guard who carried a pistol in his belt banged his palm on it, producing a green “Go.” The scene at the wall was simply other worldly. It stood sixty-two feet high and was built of large pale-white bricks. The worship area was separated with the left two-thirds reserved for males, and the remainder for females. In the male area, about one hundred ultra-Orthodox Jews grouped together busy in personal prayer. Some stood or sat at study desks draped in velveteen cloth stitched with the names of their Brooklyn benefactors. They rocked energetically while chanting, others re-wrapped black straps on their arms or adjusted the prayer boxes on their heads. Like other tourists, we donned the required cloth yarmulke provided free in bins at the entrance by the Western Wall Heritage Foundation.

in chairs

“Are you Jewish?” A man called out to us from a booth along the side wall. After we answered in the negative, he quickly produced a stack of historical brochures to pass out to us about the Jewish faith. We scribbled our prayers on small white squares of paper, folded them and stuck them into gaps between the foundation stones which overflowed with similar prayer intentions.

After leaving the wall, we passed two battalions of coed plain-clothed Israeli soldiers on patrol, each soldier couldn’t be much older than twenty, though they all had assault rifles slung across their backs. We finally stopped at Gallicantu, literally, “the cock’s crow.” This is a church run by the Assumptionist priests built on the site of the High Priest Caiaphas house where Jesus was imprisoned for the night following his arrest at Gethsemane and prior to his trial by Pontius Pilot, crucifixion, and death. It is also believed to be the spot where Peter denied Jesus three times.

fr. s looking down hole

Of all the Holy Land sites, this one is believed to have the greatest historical accuracy because it is built over a stone dungeon, actually visible from the sanctuary. Basically, it is a hole in the rock which lowers into a hand carved stone room about ten feet cubed. Prisoners of the High Priest would have been lowered into the dark ditch by ropes strung underneath their arm pits and then pulled back up the same way. Leading to the dungeon, the Assumptionists have placed a magnificent life-size bronze sculpture of a kneeling Jesus, tied at the wrists. I found this piece particularly fascinating because I feel that Jesus is very rarely depicted as the political prisoner and criminal he was executed as.

bottom of hole

In addition to the well which displays the dungeon cell behind a glass pane, the basement sanctuary of the church also contains three icons of Peter, one of his denial of Jesus, one ofhis repentance, and one also of Peter’s Primacy, where Peter affirmed three times that he loved Jesus. While this event is the first chronologically, when read in light of the Resurrection, it is seen as Peter’s beginning as head of the Church. As Deeb explained the story on the steps outside the church, it is all about God giving humans second chances.
We celebrated Mass outside on a balcony which overlooked the valley leading down from Mount Zion. We could view the golden Dome of the Rock to the left, the Garden of Gethsemene rising along the ridge of the hill on the opposite side, and to the right was Gahena, the field of blood, which was the plot of land purchased with Judas’s thirteen silver pieces and also the site on which he hanged himself.

city

The afternoon was bright and cool, the wind lifted the Palestinian and Israeli flags on top of several of the roof tops which followed the contours of the hills like a warped computer keyboard. The valley was spliced by Muslim minarets which stuck up like spikes above the rooftops. A few helicopters hovered like dragon flies above the hill on the opposite side.

“With all of this violence, it’s easy to forget that we are all God’s children.” Father said during his homily. “But as Christians we need to realize that we are all part of the same family. It’s easy to forget, especially here, where the faiths of the world converge.” The Muslim call to prayer began to blast from the minarets and covered the valley. The pulse of the helicopter blades grew louder as they approached East Jerusalem. The attackers at the synagogue had been shot by police, my cell phone informed me, but the police were still searching the streets from above for accomplices. “But we do this,” Father continued, “not through converting people, not through violence, not through creating greater division. We need to see all the other kinds of people out there as they truly are, our brothers and sisters. God’s goal for all of us is simply that we may all be one.”

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I started to imagine the scene where Peter denied Jesus. It happened just a few feet from where we sat, this same place where today the world seems to be coming apart at the seams like an old quilt. How desperate we all are for a second chance.

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sea of g

By Dave Peters

Editor’s note: Dave Peters, son of Deacon Joe Peters of St. Stanislaus Basilica Parish in Chicopee, is journeying with five others to the Holy Land. A graduate of the Elms College, Dave is offering his insights and reflections about this trip for our readers.


It is misleading that English speakers grow up naming the location where Jesus did most of his public ministry as a sea. This leads us to think that what Peter, James, and John spent their lives fishing on was some large body of salty water. This image exaggerates the grandness of stories like Jesus calming the stormy waters. But when the sun rose upon Galilee and I finally peered down from the Mount of the Beatitudes onto the Sea of Galilee, I was struck with a funny feeling. The biblical world of my imagination finally confronted reality. In that moment, the great Jesus, tsunami tamer, became yet another traveler who spent a lot of time “chillin” by a mid-sized fresh water lake. Add to this what I learned later, that Jesus didn’t speak of the blessed meek on a mountain surrounded by thousands who just wanted a glimpse of him. He spoke at the corner of two hills, as did many other preachers of the day, so that the scattered people who did show up could hear him better. Why hadn’t anyone bothered to mention this tidbit to me when I was younger?

mt. of beatitudes

I spent most of my morning in a fog of disillusionment, with the theme song from a New Testament-based cartoon my sixth grade teacher showed my class droning on in my consciousness: “Jesus is a star! Fa-la-lo-la-la!” It repeated endlessly as I recalled Jesus zooming by on clouds with fireworks streaming from his raised fist.

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This true-God-true-man must have spent a lot of time just like the rest of us, I thought as we walked through a cloud of stagnant sewer-stench which was streaming from the basement lavatories behind the Sea of Galilee Museum. Sunk a foot deep in mud, plastic lawn chairs were scattered along the beach alongside the docked S.S. Saint Francis, a mid-sized power boat which would take us on a brief jaunt out to the sea.

st. francis

The tour included a loudspeaker rendition of the American National Anthem and a modern Israeli line dance lesson, before the crew captained by a Jew named Peter (coincidence?) tried to sell us Sea of Galilee souvenirs. Please don’t misunderstand me, there was nothing wrong with Galilee, but when the foundation of your understanding is the coloring page of the children’s bulletin in which Jesus is depicted as Harry Potter, it is safe to say that reality is disturbingly average. But then again, maybe it isn’t.

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As Jesus had performed most of his ministry and miracles along the shore, in towns all mutually visible to one another, churches were built along the edge of the lake, like beachfront vacation homes. While several were set up by the Byzantines several centuries following the Resurrection, a few more were built by Crusaders who invaded on doomed missions of reestablishing a Christian presence which was never a real presence. It is important to realize that much of what exists here in commemoration of Jesus’s life is funded by far away communities like our diocese in Springfield, Massachusetts, in order that travelers like us might find something familiar when we arrive on pilgrimage. This is largely because Christians have always been a small minority of the population in Palestine; currently, a mere two percent. To prove this, one need not look further than the Paul Newman face on the statue of Saint Peter beside the ruins of his home in the fishing town of Capernaum, or the donor plaque which boasts of Scotch-Irish surnames belonging to a Pennsylvania parish. At what may have been the pit of my depression, I turned to a local, someone whose family had inhabited the region for eons, Deeb, our guide, hoping for some sort of consolation for this obvious historical blunder.
“No,” he said to me flatly. “It is that strange.”

group

Added to the clash of cultures were the twelve tour buses blocking the gate. Each was filled Chinese pilgrims who crowded underneath the flags carried by their priest/tour guide who ushered them in various directions. One young girl from Beijing, clarified for me later that they were 800 pilgrims in total just wrapping up a ten-day pilgrimage. This made surviving our puny six-man, seven-day Holy Land trip look like a cake walk.

But it also did something else too; it made me look around at the beach where some small groups were gathered together in communion, each celebrating Mass or bowing their heads in prayer. After our group had finished its own prayer, we took some time to walk between the different groups: Indonesian, Spanish, French, Polish, Russian, Chinese, Greek, and Arabic were just some of the languages I heard being spoken.

mount tabor

Later that afternoon, we took the van up the windy road which lead to Mount Tabor, the site of Jesus’s Transfiguration with Moses and Elijah. The vastness of the world lay out before our feet as we gathered once again in prayer. The clouds were pink and spliced with rays of golden sunlight which streamed onto the green agricultural fields and into the rough natural landscape of thorny trees and shrubs on the slope. I took a moment by myself to wonder how even the best teacher might manage to establish a new commandment based on social justice which flipped the values of the world upside down. How had this new way come to unite such different kinds of people from all over the world each with their own set of vocabulary, unique cultures, and conflicting traditions? From this perspective, it is not shocking to see the Jesus’s nature as divine, but from my time in Galilee I know for sure how much of a dude chillin by a lake Jesus of Nazareth really was.

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By Dave Peters

Editor’s note: Dave Peters, son of Deacon Joe Peters of St. Stanislaus Basilica Parish in Chicopee, is journeying with five others to the Holy Land. A graduate of the Elms College, Dave is offering his insights and reflections about this trip for our readers.


The Departure

Though my father and I arrived at the Big E fairgrounds precisely one minute after 2:30, the luggage of our fellow pilgrims was already in the trunk of the large white van. When our gang (consisting of Father Warren Savage, Don D’Amour, Steve Marcus, Gene Cassidy, my father, Joe Peters, and myself) was gathered and ready to depart, a ceremonial picture was taken at the steps of the Brooks Building, and we piled into the van that would be our transport to JFK. As most of us, excluding Fr. Savage and Steve, were making our first trip to the Holy Land, the conversation buzzed with excitement and anxiety. We sped south on 91, rapidly switching topics between hopes for the sites where Jesus preached and ministered, and divulging our anxiety about the conflict in the Middle East. Still our personal lives and community concerns were never too distant, and the trouble of funding Catholic education, the stress of preparing a good homily, and the challenge of maintaining Catholic identity in the workplace crept back into the conversation frequently.

Preparing for the trip ahead of time, I often wondered how a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, or Israel, as I like to refer to it, would affect me and my faith. It seemed though, starting out, that all of us were scratching at the surface of the same problem, not knowing just how this trip would change us, but being eagerly ready and willing to accept the call for transformation. After living the past two years in Taiwan, first as a teacher and the second as a student, and recently relocating to Denver where I manage a glassblowing studio, the ground slowly shifting beneath my feet has been a familiar feeling. I could relate when on the topic Catholic education, Fr. Savage pointed out, just calling a school Catholic isn’t good enough; there needs to be something substantially characteristic in the identity of the institution. And as I ate a cup of pretzel bits at a pit stop in Norwalk, I figured the same was probably true for humans, especially each of us pilgrims; this would be a trip to discover our Christian roots in their native soil.

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Church of the Annunciation:

As all good flights, Delta flight 468 was perfectly uneventful, and with the exception of passing Danny DeVito (he really is as short as you imagine) at the gate, and an unnecessary second security screening before boarding, we had nothing to complain about whatsoever. On the road to Nazareth, the late afternoon sunset shone on Deeb’s forehead when he turned from the front seat to explain to us of the difficulties for Palestinians living in the Jewish state of Israel. Deeb, along with Tony, our tour guides for the week, are both Palestinian Christians whose families have survived more than five generations in the crowded old infrastructure of Jerusalem.

tony and deeb

“Just look at the wall,” Deeb said pointing to a fifteen foot concrete wall which sat behind olive trees along the right side of the car. “Behind that wall is the West Bank, the largest Palestinian-governed territory in Israel. It was built to keep the Palestinians inside.”
Both Tony and Deeb, who were Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, had been issued a permit, serving as their IDs. It was this permit which allowed them freedom of movement within Israel.

“If you are born inside Gaza, or the West Bank, you do not have this privilege,” Tony said. “You are trapped there.”

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Nazareth was a large city bustling at six in the evening. Neon lights advertising clothing and candy shops blinked and lit up the glass windows of compact cars lining both sides of the road. Sandwiched inside a complex urban system of large concrete buildings all on different levels is the Church of the Annunciation, where the Angel Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary, asking her to bear the Son of God. The site of this event, in my memory, had always been depicted as a small grassy grove with a fresh water spring, but there we were getting hassled by the parking attendant in what could easily have been Tremont Street in Boston; Tony took the attendant by the shoulder and distracted him in Arabic while the rest of us scuttled through the steel double doors into the bright lights of the sanctuary.

ann dome

The main floor was a large open space with diagonal concrete beams supporting a large white dome which resembled the tent from the scripture passage of the Annunciation. Arabic songs with church organ could be heard coming from a wide hole in the floor which revealed the ground level where Saturday evening Mass was being held. The altar was set about ten feet below the basement floor on a platform surrounded by the white stone ruins of the original Byzantine church commemorating the actual site of the Annunciation. This was then enclosed once more by another set of ruins dating from the church which was erected by the European Crusaders.

ann. church

Outside, Saleem the gate keeper introduced me to the large door of the church on which was depicted the life of Jesus in six scenes. He said that over the course of ten years as gate keeper there he has seen hundreds of thousands of tourists. He gestured to the ceramic murals of the Annunciation which came from artists all around the world exhibited in and around the church.

“So many people, so many styles,” he said. Just then bells began to ring signalling the end of Mass and a haunting call to prayer came out from the next door mosque. We said a quick prayer in front of the statue of the Virgin and dashed off to the car. There was still so much more to see, but we would need to get on the road if we were to reach the Sea of Galilee before too late.

ann. mural

Pope Francis celebrates Mass in St. Peter's Basilica to open extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family

5 OCTOBER 2014

Today the prophet Isaiah and the Gospel employ the image of the vineyard of the Lord. The vineyard of the Lord is his “dream,” the project that he’s cultivated with all his love, like a farmer cares for his field. Vines are plants that require a lot of care!

The “dream” of God is his people: he’s planted and cultivated it with patient and faithful love, that it might become a holy people, a people who might bring forth many good fruits of justice.

But whether in the ancient prophecies or the parables of Jesus, God’s dream becomes frustrated. Isaiah says that the vineyard, much loved and cared for, “has produced immature fruit” while God “expected justice but here finds bloodshed, awaited rectitude yet here the cry of oppression.” In the Gospel, meanwhile, it’s the farmers who ruin the Lord’s project: they don’t do their work, but think of their own interests.

Pope Francis arrives to celebrate Mass in St. Peter's Basilica to open extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family

Jesus, with his parable, addresses the chief priests and elders of the people, they being the “wise ones,” the ruling class. To these in a particular way God has entrusted his “dream,” his people, that they might cultivate it, care for it, keep it from wild animals. This is the charge of the leaders of the people: to cultivate the vineyard with freedom, creativity and hard work.

Jesus says that, however, those farmers had seized upon the land; for their own greed and pride they want to make of it what they want, and remove God from the possibilities of realizing his dream for the people he has chosen.

The temptation of greed is always present. We likewise find it in the great prophecy of Ezekiel on the shepherds, on which St Augustine remarked in his celebrated discourse which we recently took up in the Liturgy of the Hours. A greed of money and of power. And to sate this greed the evil shepherds load on the shoulders of the people insupportable burdens that they themselves don’t lift a finger to move.

Family members leave after presenting offertory gifts to Pope Francis during Mass in St. Peter's Basilica to open extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family

We too, in the Synod of Bishops, are called to work for the vineyard of the Lord. The Synodal assemblies don’t serve to discuss beautiful or original ideas, or to see who’s the most intelligent one… They serve to care for and maintain better the Lord’s vineyard, to cooperate in his dream, in his project of love for his people. In this case, the Lord asks us to take on ourselves the care of the family, which from its origins is an integral part of his design of love for humanity.

We are all sinners, eh?, and for us too there can be the temptation of “seizing upon” the vineyard, born of the greed that’s never lacking in us humans. The dream of God always clashes with the hypocrisy of some among his servants. We can “frustrate” the dream of God if we don’t let ourselves be guided by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit gives us the wisdom that is apart from science, to work generously with true freedom and humble creativity.

Brothers of the Synod, to care for and guard well the vineyard, we need for our hearts and minds to be guarded in Christ Jesus, from whom comes “peace from God which is beyond all understanding.” So will our thoughts and our projects be conformed to the dream of God: to form a holy people that belongs to him and produces the fruits of the Kingdom of God .

The following is the homily from the Pink Mass celebrated on Sept. 27, 2014 at St. Michael Cathedral in Springfield.

By Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski
Diocese of Springfield, MA

bishop r

Ezekiel 18:25-28
Philippians 2: 1-5
Matthew 21: 28-32

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, it is a privilege to gather
with you today to share in this Mass as we pray for all those who are
burdened by the diagnosis of cancer, for their caregivers in their
families, friends and in the professional medical field. I also greet
those who are joining us today by television as our Chalice of
Salvation Mass is broadcast from St. Michael Cathedral.
Whenever we gather to celebrate the Eucharist, we are conscious of
the hope that is given to us in Christ Jesus as our Savior. Jesus’
words in last week’s Gospel as well as in this week’s are not easy to
hear and comprehend. Recall that in last Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus
tells us of the landowner who called the workers into his field at
various parts of the day. Those who were called at a late hour got
paid first and they received a full day’s wage. When the workers
who had started in the morning received their pay, much to their
disappointment, they received the same wage as the latecomers.

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In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells of the two sons who had different
reactions to their father’s request. The first son refused and then
went into the field. The second son simply responded “yes” for
convenience sake and then did not obey his father’s wishes. If we
are to truly understand this story of Jesus, we have to comprehend
the Middle Eastern culture of Jesus’ day. A conversation between
the father and his sons would not have taken place in private, but
within earshot of his neighbors or other family members. To the
people of that time, showing respect would have top priority in their
minds.
Many people would have taken the side of the second son who, on
the surface, acceded to his father’s wish, but then chose not to go
into the field. At least publicly, he showed respect to his father.
But Jesus does not ask the question in that way. He inquires,
“Which of the two did his father’s will?” In other words, which son
went beyond the mere show of respect to actually live out what was
asked of him?”
And so, Jesus asks us the same question, “Are we willing to totally
give our lives for God or do we give Him a mere hour on Sunday?”
My brothers and sisters, we gather today to pray for those who
are struggling with the cross of suffering in their lives in the form
of cancer. Neither the disease nor the treatment is an easy burden.
In this suffering, it is certainly convenient to identify with the words
of the people in the first reading today who complain to God
that the His ways are not fair. None of us really wants to
have the burden of illness affect us and yet, illness is so much a part
of our human condition. But Jesus always reminds us that we do
not carry our burdens alone. Certainly He who was willing to
accept the cross for us, is with us in our struggles.

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He who had experienced the burden of betrayal and abandonment
also knows the hearts of His people. And so today, we take great
comfort in our Savior who walks with us and gives to us so many
people in our lives to remind us that we are never alone. Our
gathering today illustrates the power of our prayers in caring for
one another and helping to ease the burdens of all those who endure
not only the disease of cancer, but bravely face their treatments in
the form of chemotherapy, radiation and other means that are being
used to treat this disease. Some years ago, a very wise elderly
person who was undergoing cancer therapy treatments told me that
it was not the illness that frustrated or scared her, but the thought
of going through it alone. She had felt alienated in her suffering.
Yet, through the care of her devoted family and friends, she was not
alone in her struggles and, in their care, she also re-discovered the
care that God has for her.
What a transforming and uplifting experience during the most
difficult time of her life in that she truly felt God’s love for her.
In our second reading today, St. Paul speaks of that

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transformative love that is found with our solidarity in Christ and
with one another. “If there is any encouragement in Christ, any
solace in love, any participation in the Spirit, any compassion and
mercy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same
love, united in heart, thinking one thing.” “Have in you the same
attitude that is also in Christ Jesus.”
Dear friends, when we are together, when we are united in
Christ, we know that we can face the burdens of life, even the illness
of cancer. None of us knows what lies ahead in life, but we can
always be assured of the merciful presence of Jesus, who took our
struggles as His own and makes all illness redemptive. To Him be
all the praise and glory! Amen!

Pope Francis celebrates marriage rite for 20 couples during Mass in St. Peter's Basilica

By Steve & Michelle O’Leary

Editor’s note: The following blog is a submission from the Worldwide Marriage Encounter and focuses on being aware of difference and how to communicate.

Stephen

We are two separate beings with individual backgrounds, tastes, experiences and personalities. This merger of individual identities is the confluence that blends two separate streams of consciousness into the river of marriage. Even though I respect and admire Michelle more than anyone I have ever met, she still frequently frustrates me to the point of exasperation. She is a bewildering mix of quandaries, enigmas, contradictions and vexations. And I am no better. We are two unique individuals with opposing personalities and habits.

Michelle

One glaring example is the time we spend in the bathroom. In the morning, Stephen typically showers, shaves and gets dressed all in 10 minutes or so; 15 tops if he is taking his time. But I, however, use considerably more time and resources getting ready for the day. Because I like my showers so hot I sometimes overheat, so of course I need to cool down before I start with my hair or getting dressed. This time when I appear to be doing nothing frustrates Stephen, especially when there is a deadline.

shower

Stephen

Of course, the end result is a lot nicer than how I turn out. In many things we do, we are diametrically opposed. For instance, whenever we go to a large gathering, I can promise you that the absolute strangest person in the room will approach Michelle and talk to her. She really enjoys chatting with different kinds of people who approach her. I, on the other hand, tend to discourage these interactions. Frankly, they make me a little nervous.

Michelle

I can be really disorganized whereas Stephen likes to know where everything is. Being late is not something about which I get worked up and Stephen feels anything later than 5 minutes early is disrespectful. I like fruits and vegetable and Stephen prefers meat and potatoes. I am more loving and intuitive and Stephen is more analytical and logical. I am flexible to change and comfortable in the face of surprises, but Stephen needs to be prepared and organized in order to feel comfortable.

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Stephen

However, because we recognize the value of these differences, we are able to our own strengths to compensate for and even complement the other’s weaknesses. It makes us a formidable team, both in our ministries as well as in our marriage. We believe that as a team, we are stronger than as a sum of our parts. While her differences may annoy me from time to time, I have come to understand the value they bring to our relationship. We have worked out our roles in marriage so they are complementary, allowing us to thrive by working together instead of against one another.

Michelle

This does not mean that we are not equal partners, or that one is more dominant than the other. Equality in our relationship does not mean sameness – it means each of us is valued for the contribution we bring to the table. In fact, the very differences we have are perhaps our greatest strengths when they are recognized and used effectively instead of being at odds with one another.

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Discussion Question:
How do our personality differences impact our ability to work as a team? Describe in Loving Detail.

jess and crs lady

By Jessica Dupont

Editor’s note: Jessica is offering her reflections while participating in a Catholic Relief Services’ trip to Burnundi. This is her second reflection.

Joy, peace and love – those three words can mean something different to everyone. I have often
looked at wall decorations that simply state those three words and thought, “I can relate to that as three important guiding principles in my life.”
However, little did I know how incomplete my connection to those words truly was until these past few days in Burundi.

Joy

On second day in Burundi, we traveled out of the city of Bujumbura to visit three Batwa villages in the Bubanza province that are supported by the Catholic Relief Services (CRS) funded project, Action Batwa. Action Batwa is a project run by Fr. Elias Mwebembezi, one of the Missionary Fathers of Africa (the group also known as the White Fathers). Action Batwa’s mission is to assist the Batwa in being lifted out of the desperate poverty in which they find themselves. Socially outcast by Burundian society, the Batwa live in relative isolation from the rest of the population. We began our day in the Batwa village of Butanuka. Even before the car stopped, we were surrounded by the people of the village eager to greet us. Everyone wanted to shake our hands to express thanks for our visit. As we walked with them up the hill to the village, they sang the most beautiful song of joy, dancing and thanking Jesus for bringing us to visit them.

jess dancers

Once in the village, they showed us with great pride the homes that they had built with the assistance of Action Batwa. We spent a great deal of time with the people of Butanuka, seeing the beautiful community they had built and learning about the successful SILC (Savings and Internal Lending Community) project that had been instituted with the training assistance of CRS.
As we made our way to the villages of Kukabami and Musenyi, the greetings and the experiences were much the same: incredible joy as well as incredible pride in the homes that they had built and the village that they had established. All the work done with Action Batwa had put their needs and their opinions first, a concept that is central to method in which CRS operates. This experience exemplified our Catholic social teaching call to solidarity as well as subsidiarity. As Catholics, we must deepen our understanding of these concepts and seek out ways to live them in our own lives. It is not only the people of the Batwa villages that I will keep with me when I leave this place, but the lasting example of these important social teaching concepts in action and the amazing ways they can change people’s lives.

crs built houses

Peace

As we began day three, we came together as a group to have breakfast and share in Mass- binding our experiences here in Africa with our living faith. By late morning, we were on our way to visit the Missionaries of Charity at Kajaga. Founded by Mother Theresa their mission is to care for the poorest and most vulnerable in our world. At this site they care for children who have been abandoned as well as adults who are in need of their care. The sister who is in charge of this community has the most beautiful and calming peace as she greeted us and welcomed us to her community. Sister brought us around, introducing us to the children in her care as well as the adults. With a child in her arms, she moved from building to building with a peaceful and graceful presence that can only be experienced firsthand to be fully appreciated. In our group reflection that evening, one among us even commented that at times she appeared to be gliding. And here again, I’m confronted with my own previous limited perspective of what peace truly means. As we moved from the children’s buildings in the community to the buildings where to adults lived, Sister stopped in the chapel to pray and reflect. It was an unspoken reminder to hold peace in our hearts and that through prayer and reflection it can be achieved even when it seems most difficult.

villagers garanuka

Love

Love has been a theme since arriving in Burundi for me. I witnessed it in Fr. Elias as he greeted each of the Batwa communities. I also saw the love each and every one of them had for him, and to a certain extent, for us as well. It is because of this love that Fr. Elias has committed his life to helping the Batwa live good and dignified lives as our faith tells us all people should. I saw the incredible love the children at the Missionaries of Charity had for the religious sister and the volunteers. As we toured the grounds, Sister had with her a small baby who had been crying when we walked into the nursery. The minute she scooped him up, he clung to her with his precious hands and looked up at her with the kind of love only a child can give. Lastly, the love and devotion I found in the Sister and volunteers at the Missionaries of Charity, the incredible care and respect they have for each life they care for is a perfect embodiment of the way God calls us all to love one another: all human life is to be loved and respected.
And so, when back home, my impression of those three simple words: Joy, Peace & Love, will be forever changed and will always bring me back to Burundi and remind me of the Batwa, Fr. Elias and the Missionaries of Charity and all that they are truly living out Christ’s call.
For more information on CRS SILC projects please visit: http://crs.org/united-states/introducing-savings-led-microfinance/

Jessica-and-Kathryn

Editor’s note: Kathryn Buckley-Brawner (right in photo above), director of the Springfield Diocese’s Catholic Charities Agency and a parishioner of Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Granby, and Jessica Dupont, a parishioner of Immaculate Conception Parish in Holyoke, are traveling to Burundi with Catholic Relief Services. Jessica, the daughter of Catholic Communications Mark Dupont, offers this reflection.

By Jessica Dupont

After 25 long hours of travel, the CRS Diocesan Team Delegation to Burundi landed at7:10 PM on the hot, humid night of September 10th. Forty-five minutes of paperwork, fever checks, and baggage claim fun, we were on our way into the dark Burundi evening.  Given the darkness, my first experience of the country was the not of the sights but rather the sounds of humming insects and the smells of fires. Bujumbara, the capital city of Burundi, would be our home for the next 7 days.

After a much needed night’s sleep, our group was ready to embark on day 1 of our journey in country.  Many of us shared the wonderful experience of being woken by the beautiful sounds of Mass being celebrated in the center of the Mont Sion Retreat center where we are staying. Even from a distance, the joy and enthusiasm with which the participants celebrated God’s word was breath-taking. As a group, we began our day celebrating Mass in a small outdoor gazebo.  As a small breeze passed through while we worshiped, there was no doubt that the Holy Spirit was with us, giving us strength and encouragement for the journey ahead.

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Following Mass and breakfast, we spent the remainder of our morning with the Catholic Relief Service’s (CRS) Burundi Country staff at their offices. They provided incredibly knowledgeable information regarding the major projects CRS is currently funding here in country, several of which we will be fortunate enough to go and witness first hand in the coming days.  It is important to know that with the exception of very few individuals, all CRS country staff are Burundi themselves. To meet such passionate individuals committed to making a lasting and sustainable change in their country was inspiring. They have committed their lives, some upwards of 20 years, to the work of reversing and preventing malnutrition, fostering peace amongst ethnic groups through economic empowerment, and helping those marginalized by their society find work when their livelihood was taken from them. To me, they exemplify the work that God calls us to do each and every day to help those around us who are most in need.

The remainder of the day was spent touring the neighborhoods of Bujumbura, taking in the incredible landscape and economic diversity that makes up the capital.

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Tomorrow, we will visit Action Batwa, an organization that is trying to change the social behaviors of the Batwa people of Burundi so as to allow for greater integration with Burundian society. Representing approximately 2% of the population, the Batwa are marginalized and outcast by Burundian society.  For more information on the ethic groups of Burundi and their history, visit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burundi

Fr-Schmitt
The following is the homily given at the funeral Mass of Father Thomas F. Schmitt, professor and dean of seminarians at Pope St. John XXIII National Seminary. The Liturgy of Christian Burial was held Aug. 22 at Christ the King Parish in Ludlow. Father Schmitt was 58.

By Father William B. Palardy
Rector and president of Pope St. John XXIII National Seminary

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It was late October or early November of last year, only a couple of weeks after the initial diagnosis of esophageal cancer, that Fr. Tom became aware of how very many people were praying for him: daily prayers, novenas, people fasting for him, people here in this great parish, folks connected with Pope St. John Seminary, his large number of family members and friends, priests of the Springfield diocese and priest alumni from John XXIII Seminary, women religious such as the sisters at the Visitation Monastery in Tyringham, and then the countless others whom all these people in turn had asked to pray for him. Well, as he realized just how many folks were pounding heaven on his behalf, in his usual witty way, Fr. Tom said to me one day, “Geez, I better pull through this thing, or it’s going to be a crisis of faith for a lot of people!” He meant it humorously, but in fact for many of us, it became prophetic, because when April 15th rolled around, after all the prayers, and after the rounds of chemo, radiation, and cancer surgery, when we learned that the cancer had spread to his liver, was stage 4, and that he wouldn’t have long to live, I know for me, and I suspect for many of you here today, it was indeed a crisis of faith, or at least a source of deep disappointment, disillusionment, and anger.

Yes, I was angry all right, angry with God, angry with all those saints whose intercession I and so many others had been praying for day in and day out, angry even at our patron Pope John XXIII about to be canonized a saint to whom so many of us had been praying novenas for Fr. Tom’s healing.

Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, the future Pope John XXIII, pictured in undated photo

I went into our chapel at the seminary that evening full of anger, letting God and some of the saints know how I felt – in no uncertain terms, but then I happened to look up at the large crucifix we have in the sanctuary. I looked at the image of Jesus’ lifeless body hanging limply on the cross, and I got stopped in my tracks. I gazed at the crucifix and said, “Lord Jesus, I just can’t be angry with you. Look what you suffered out of your infinite love and your burning desire to forgive us, to forgive my friend Fr. Tom, to forgive me, my sins, and to offer us, to offer my friend Fr. Tom, to offer me the hope of life eternal, none of which any of us could have ever obtained on our own.”

In 1991 when Bishop Joseph Maguire ordained Fr. Tom to the priesthood, as part of the ordination rite the bishop placed in Fr. Tom’s hands a chalice and paten for the celebration of the Holy Eucharist and spoke these words to him, “Know what you are doing and imitate the mystery you celebrate: model your life on the mystery of the Lord’s Cross.” We speak of the Eucharist as the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass – a holy sacrifice in the sense that the Eucharist makes present for us all the One Sacrifice of Christ on the cross, enabling all of us to join the sacrifices of our own lives with that sacrifice of Christ, and in receiving Holy Communion to draw from Christ’s sacrifice that we celebrate here the grace, the spiritual power, to endure the sacrifices of our own daily lives with renewed strength and Christ-like love and charity.
I have never known a priest more devoted to the Holy Eucharist than Fr. Tom Schmitt. He always made a point each day to spend time in the chapel praying before the Blessed Sacrament.

Pope Francis elevates Eucharist during Mass of Sts. Peter and Paul in St. Peter's Basilica at Vatican

And whenever we’d travel on vacation, he’d always have his Mass kit with him, and the first thing we’d do when we’d arrive at our destination was to find a supermarket or liquor store where we could buy some wine for the celebration of Mass each day. Early on he’d even pack a huge chasuble in his suitcase. In the course of time I was finally able to convince him that when it was just the two of us celebrating Mass in a hotel room or cabin, it was okay to forgo the chasuble and just wear an alb and stole. Fr. Tom reluctantly went along with it, but deep down was still probably questioning my orthodoxy! I believe that in his 23 plus years as a priest, other than when he was hospitalized or recuperating from surgery, he never missed a day in celebrating the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Even in these last weeks, he would drag himself down to the chapel in the seminary to concelebrate Mass each day. When we had Mass for him in his room the last week of his life, it was only the morning before he died when he did not concelebrate Mass. As a good teacher, even in his last days Fr. Tom continued to teach all of us how essential the Holy Eucharist is in the daily life of the priest.

“Model your life on the mystery of the Lord’s cross.” An image that will remain with me for the rest of my life was when we had a prayer service for Fr. Tom in his room 3 days before he died. He held a crucifix in his hands and clutched it close to his heart throughout the prayer service, and that same crucifix was lying on his chest during his final hours and at the moment of his death.

Crucifix is seen silhouetted against stained-glass window in chapel at New York correctional facility

Fr. Tom selected the readings from Scripture for this funeral Mass, and while the first 2 readings are customary texts for a funeral, he specifically wanted a Gospel different from the ones in the funeral ritual book, Jesus’ words in St. John’s Gospel on love, on charity – “Love one another as I love you,” Jesus charges all of us His disciples: “No one has greater love than this – to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” The charity, the sacrificial love of Christ that Fr. Tom celebrated in each Eucharist, he strove to emulate and exemplify in his own life. I remember on one occasion speaking to him about the polarization in the Church between so-called liberals and conservatives, and some of the other divisions that can occur among people who claim allegiance to Jesus Christ. His response was always, “Where is the charity, the love that Christ means for us to have and show?” So many of the divisions among Catholics he attributed to a lack of charity. While Fr. Tom always upheld the teaching of the Church in all matters, his approach to those who might disagree with Church teaching was patiently and clearly to try to give the reasons behind Church teaching, never insulting or demeaning the other person, but always treating the person with respect, kindness, and charity. And that is what he tried to impart to his students in the seminary these past 16 years.
Sacrificial, Christ-like love was in evidence throughout his life. Who will ever forget this past March when from his hospitable bed he made it to Canaan, CT to celebrate the Mass and preach the homily at his dad’s funeral? Who will ever forget the numerous times when as dean of students he accompanied seminarians who were ill to the emergency room, or comforted them when they were in crisis or sorrow, or encouraged them to persevere in their vocation, sharing his own struggles when he had been a seminarian himself? I am sure many folks in this parish can point to examples from their own experience where Fr. Tom was there for them when they were in desperate need for the healing, comforting, love of Christ, and they found it through his priestly ministry. Fr. Tom would also show his care for us when he’d remember some significant detail from our life that we’d share with him, and often when we’d least expect it – he’d bring up something we had said and with his incredible sense of timing turn it into something hilarious. I had shared with him once a somewhat callous comment made to me by someone who knew that both my parents had suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. Well, later on several occasions when I had a momentary lapse and couldn’t remember someone’s name, Fr Tom would repeat that earlier comment: “It doesn’t look good for you!” So often, his great wit, as quick and as outrageous as it often was, was a way that he expressed his attentiveness and love for us.

PASSAGE FROM BOOK OF REVELATION

The reading from the Book of Revelation that we just heard Fr. Tom’s nephew Carl proclaim speaks of a new heaven and a new earth where there will be no more death or mourning, where we will be in God’s presence forever, and where we will share completely in the victory of Christ over sin and death. And yes, Fr. Tom looked forward to this new heaven and new earth, but did he ever love and enjoy the present heaven and earth that we all share. He could point out many of the constellations in the night sky, and when it came to the natural beauty of earth that we’d encounter on hikes and bike rides, he was so enamored and full of wonder at God’s creative artistry. He could name just about every tree, plant, or bird that we ever came across, and appreciate all the details and distinctions among their many varieties. An exceptionally bright and intelligent man, Fr. Tom excelled not only in his understanding and presentation of theology, but he also had a lot of expertise in history, science, botany, mechanics, technology, and several languages. Yet, never was he haughty or condescending; he just liked to share his knowledge and his wonder about the world around him, so that some of his own joy might spill over onto all of us.

I still can’t begin to understand why God has taken such an outstanding priest, such a gifted teacher, such a wise and vivacious colleague, such a dear friend from us. But what I do know is that Fr. Tom did indeed model his life on the mystery of the Lord’s cross, that he exemplified what a priest is called to be, that he freely gave and graciously received the love that is rooted in Jesus Christ. As he was a witness throughout his priestly life, and especially during his illness, to the reality of Christ’s cross, so we pray that he is now sharing in the joy of Christ’s resurrection, that he is now finding the new heaven and new earth infinitely more glorious than the beautiful heaven and earth he enjoyed here with us, and we pray that Jesus Christ, whose love Fr. Tom shared so lavishly with us here, now embraces him with complete peace and joy. Today in the Church calendar we celebrate the feast of Mary as Queen of Heaven. May the Blessed Mother to whom Fr. Tom was so devoted on earth welcome him now to his place at the heavenly banquet.

Actor Robin Williams found dead

By Julie Beaulieu

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In the recent death of Robin Williams, I reflected on the people I’ve known in my life who have suffered from mental illness, including my mother and a close friend. All forms of mental illness are serious diseases that have drastic effects on not only an individual, but his or her families and loved ones.

As mentioned in a previous blog of mine, I was raised as an only child, growing up with a schizophrenic mother, and a father who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) resulting from his experiences in the Vietnam War. I have an older half-sister from my father’s first marriage who grew up in a different household. I’m also the only grandchild of Polish immigrants.

Although my mother sought treatment in her thirties for depression, she was misdiagnosed. At age 40, she suffered a psychotic break and was first hospitalized. I was in high school. Frightened and ashamed, I did my best to hide her illness from my friends.
While in college, I received a call from my mother’s job stating that she had been sent to the emergency room. What I recall most from that psychiatric hospitalization was my grandfather saying, “I hope I die before I see her go into the hospital again.” His wish came true. My grandfather passed away from heart disease in the fall of 1992. The point is for my readers to realize the extreme pain and devastation these illnesses bring not only to an individual, but to the entire family.

My grandparents generation, that of World War II, viewed mental illness as a shameful embarrassment, that was to be kept a secrete at all costs. Both of my grandparents constantly agonized over the haunting thoughts of what they had done wrong as parents to have such an ill child. Still, prior to my grandmother falling ill with vascular dementia in 2007, she would walk half a mile to the hospital to visit her daughter into her mid-eighties saying, “She is my flesh and blood.”

In 2007, my mother had several hospitalizations which consumed six months of her life out of that year. I knew that something needed to be done to keep her on her medication while she was at home, so I sought a Community Roger’s Order and Medical Guardianship of her. My mother is now under a court order to be medicated against her will and has not been hospitalized since the fall of 2009.

BOTTLE OF MEDICINE SITS ON PHARMACY COUNTER

However, my experience with suicide goes back to my childhood, knowing that my godmother’s father had suffered a horrific death before I was born. This man was, like my grandfather, a veteran of the Polish army from World War II, who had relocated to American in the early 1950’s. I can only speculate that he suffered from PTSD and depression. He was a husband and father of two adult children when one day, in the late 1960’s, the poured gasoline all over his bedroom, tied himself to the bed, and lit the room on fire.

Men suffer from depression as much as women do, but are less likely to get help and more likely to succeed at a suicide attempt. (The Mask of Male Depression http://www.nami.org/Template.cfm?Section=major_depression&template=/ContentManagement/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=79265)

My father, a Vietnam veteran, also suffers from PTDS related anxiety and depression, which he self-medicated for years with alcohol and drugs. In 2006, he completed an in-patient program at the Veteran’s Hospital in Leeds and now takes prescription medication.

VISITORS REFLECTED IN VIETNAM VETERANS MEMORIAL IN WASHINGTON

An incident that still remains in my mind was the tragic loss of a male friend, P, who committed suicide by hanging in 2000. I remember P as, “the life of the party,” and as someone who always clowned around. Yet, he had a sensitive side.

Something dark had lived inside of him. At the age of 10, P’s mother lost her battle with cancer. She died in bed while sleeping next to her son. P carried this pain and sorrow with him through out his life, and often self-medicated with alcohol and drugs.

As time went on, P began to use heavier drugs and had been in and out of rehab. He developed serious financial problems. He had relationship problems. After a brief failed marriage, another serious relationship had ended. He was asked to leave a house he shared with roommates and had to stay with a relative.

Shortly before his death, he abandoned an in-house rehab program and began using again. I kept asking his other male friends what was wrong. They felt that P’s problems, at the time, were private. Soon after, he was found dead. People closest to him felt that he wouldn’t commit suicide because he had a young son. Regrets ran rampant among his circle of friends, including myself. I wrote this poem about P, trying to imagine what he may have been feeling.

I am not strong enough to face anymore tomorrows.
I am not strong enough to look at myself in the mirror.
I am not strong enough to stop.
I am not strong enough to continue failing.
I am not strong enough to be a father, a lover, a worker, a friend.
I am not strong enough to be who I once was.
I am not strong enough to be who all of you expect me to be.
I am not strong enough to even realize who I am anymore.
I am not strong enough to get better, to get well.
I was strong enough to make one last choice.
I was not strong enough to realize how much I was loved.
Be strong, all of you.
Be strong enough to forgive me.
Be strong enough to let me go.
Be strong for each other, and remember me always.

Help is always available to those who need it. Perhaps P had an underlying depressive illness that may not have been diagnosed during detoxification. Drugs and alcohol far too often mask mental illnesses.

Over a year ago, I did a story on local activist and volunteer for the Western Massachusetts NAMI chapter (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Ted Dunn, a former professor and football coach at Springfield College. Now in his 90’s, Dunn spoke openly about his own battle with depression.

Dunn is also author of the book, “Living with Depressive Illness and Finding Joy Again: A Holistic Approach.”

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Luckily, my mother never has attempted suicide, although she has mentioned it on occasion. Never take a threat of suicide lightly and seek help immediately, either for yourself, or a loved one. For more information go to http://www.nami.org

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Photos courtesy of Catholic News Service.

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